The Sacrament of the Altar
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
-1 Corinthians 10:16
The best way to understand the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Lord’s Supper, is to see it as a participation in the sacrifice. In Genesis 3, an animal is killed in order to clothe Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:6-14, 21). Noah offered sacrifices to God after the flood. (Genesis 8:20-22). And a sacrifice was made when God came down and the men of Israel met with God and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:3-11). Sacrifices were made on behalf of the people for the purpose of making atonement for their sin. The sacrifices, themselves, could not make atonement for sin. But the sacrifices, done in faith at the command of God, did give what was promised. The people were forgiven as the sacrifices pointed to the one true sacrifice that would come, Jesus, the promised Messiah, or Christ.
In speaking about the Lord’s Supper, St. Paul poses this question to the church in Corinth, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). This truth of our participation points us back to the truth that when Jesus Christ was crucified as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), our sin and its judgment were there upon Him. He was participating in our judgment, taking it completely upon Himself. We were not aware of it then, but we were active participants in His crucifixion.
In the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, we eat the body of Christ given for us and the blood of Christ shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. We do not re-sacrifice Jesus, nor do we transform the bread into His body or the wine into His blood. We simply partake of what Jesus declares it to be, His very body and His very blood. And with that, we have forgiveness, life, and His very own righteousness put upon us.
Since this is the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, those who are not Christian or unrepentant of their sins, participate in the sacrifice to their own judgment. It is as if they were one of those who cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Thus. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”